Overcoming the most difficult step: the first one

September 27, 2023

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"

Chinese proverb.

Over the summer months, I was having coffee with a friend of mine who posed the question, “What made you go running for the very first time and what did you do to ensure that you went running again for a second and third time?” I’ve thought long and hard about the answers and the simple truth is, I can’t remember. However, the conversation that afternoon eventually led to the idea behind this article, what advice would you give somebody who wants to take up running for the very first time but does not know how to go about it and so, just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so too does your running journey!

One thing I do remember however from early in my running days, was that I used to go after dark. I was very self-conscious that someone I knew might see me panting and walking and would jeer me about it after and so I felt that I was less likely to be seen at night time! When I needed to slow down, I always ensured that I was in a dark area with overhanging trees, so that passing motorists were far less likely to recognise me. Over time I realised that this wasn’t true and more than likely others are going to be impressed when they see you out pounding the pavements, envious even that it is not them in their shorts and t-shirt.

A rookie mistake I did make at the time was music. I can remember one night putting on my headphones and taking off with a delighted smile on my face as Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town blasted into my ears. Before Phil Lynott and the band had completed their masterpiece I was bent over, hands on my knees, panting as I had foolishly run to the beat of the song rather than going at a suitable pace. For the next year or so I left the headphones at home and listened to the sounds of my feet hitting the pavement, the engines of cars and lorries pass by, the songs of birds in the trees and the “hellos” from walkers as I slowly made my way past them. These sounds proved in time to be meditative and allowed me to get lost in my own thoughts and imagination and ensured I ran at my pace and not the beat of 1980s classic power ballads! Nowadays, I avoid music completely and listen to a podcast and get lost in the conversation. This distracts my mind from the running and before I know it, I have completed the route I had planned. I find interesting and humorous podcasts have enhanced my jogging experience and I really look forward to getting out on the trails and pathways knowing that there is an interesting conversation to keep me company.

There are plenty of Couch to 5k plans online and in App form for beginners and many of them are brilliant. If you do decide to follow one, make sure it has been designed by a reputable organisation that have used expert advice to design the plan to give yourself every opportunity of succeeding. They encourage joggers to gradually increase their distance without overdoing it which is one of chief reasons why people give up running early. I always feel it is important to finish jogging knowing that you have more in the tank and could easily have continued further. Couch to 5K plans work as they mix running with walking and gradually build up stamina and fitness. The NHS have a brilliant nine-week plan with accompanying podcasts and this can be accessed here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/e...

There are plenty of pitfalls many fall into on their very first run; running too fast, running too far, worrying about if someone they know sees them etc. So, we here at www.runrepublic.com spoke to two experts to hear what they have to say.

Darren O’Grady is a coach with Menapians Athletic Club (https://www.menapiansac.com/) in Wexford Town and has worked extensively with beginners in the past. 

featured image: Darran O'Grady

Why do You Want to Run?

“Firstly” he says, “ask yourself why is that you want to run? Is it to improve fitness, lose weight, work on your mental health and self-esteem or making new friends? Or is it simply that everyone else is running, so why can’t I?”

“Once you have this figured out in your head it is a great idea to set yourself a goal such as jogging 5km non-stop. Answering these questions will give you a target to aim for, something to work towards and this will help you get out the front door for your second and third run.”


Initially he advises you “to take it slow, breathe and adopt a walk/run strategy. A simple technique to figure out if you are running too fast is to see if you could comfortably hold a conversation with someone. Those who are running too fast would struggle to talk and their breathing is laboured.”

Running Tips

“When you begin your first run, set yourself simple targets like jogging to the next lamppost and walk to the one after that. Very slowly over time build up the run distance and slowly reduce the walk distance.” “It is important” he cautions to not “overdo any training run, stop and walk when necessary” and “loosen the arms, don’t hold them too tightly, let your hands touch your hips as you swing them while running”.

After the Run

“After your run it is vital to stretch, drink some water and eat something small. This gives the body the energy to replace lost fuel and ensure your legs aren’t sore the following day”.

“When fully cool have a shower and enjoy the fact you got out and ran. As you begin to train you may feel muscle stiffness the morning after a run, this is very normal and movement will help”.

Clodagh McIntyre is a physiotherapist and yoga instructor who plays senior camogie for Tipperary and her club Lorrha and Dorrha. You can find Clodagh on Instagram at yoga_withclodagh

Clodagh McIntyre. photographer: Marty Ryan

“The best way to get running/exercising is to first establish a good relationship with yourself. If you respect and love yourself, you will be motivated to make right and better decisions for your mind and body. Love and respect for yourself comes from how you move through each day. Being honest with yourself and with the people closest to you. Honest effort, honest contributions, honouring your values and morals.”

Clodagh McIntyre. photographer: Marty Ryan

Social support!

When someone is relying on you, you will be more likely to make that extra effort. Bring a friend along and organise your run with them. It is much nicer to have company sometimes. Darren also advises beginners to get a “running buddy”, someone they can go running with and chat to. If there is a Parkrun near where you live, you should consider going every Saturday morning where you can walk and jog your way around the route. There are always beginners at Parkrun and everyone is welcome regardless of your ability. These friendly, social events are perfect to make new friends while also seeking advice from others who more often than not, are generous with their knowledge.

Clodagh McIntyre. photographer: Marty Ryan

Plan Ahead

One way to help ensure you exercise is to plan out your day in advance. Clodagh advises that “being organised and taking time the night before to schedule when you are going to get your exercise in during the day. Make a plan and set a goal for each day. Don’t worry if sometimes you don’t stick to the plan, but when you have goals within your mind and written down, you are more likely to achieve them.”

Finally Clodagh advises beginners to “take it slow. Being accepting of your body and be consistent. Small insignificant actions combine to make profound results. Be kind to your body and don’t expect too much.”

Photographs of Clodagh were provided by Marty Ryan from Sport Focus Ireland. You can follow him on Twitter @DammitMarty. 

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